It's a mission the Thunder admits is impossible, but one Oklahoma City must take on anyway, that is, if the team has any hope of completing the championship quest that came up oh so short a year ago.
The task: stopping LeBron James.
Very few seem to have a solution to that 6-foot-8 inch problem these days and even fewer are equipped to actually step between the lines and try to solve it.
“He's one of the best players in the game's history,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “You can talk about why we don't do this and why we don't we do that. Well, we've done everything and the league does everything. That's what makes the greatest players great. They can do it against any defender, against any scheme.”
Just when it looked as if James, the Miami Heat star who powered his team through the Thunder and to the NBA title last June, couldn't get any better, he came back the best we've ever seen him. He's shooting 56.5 percent from the field and 42 percent from the 3-point line, both career highs. He's added a career- and team-high 8.1 rebounds to complement the other three statistical categories in which he paces the Heat: points, assists and steals.
And if you thought James was the Thunder's worst nightmare last June, wait until you see him now.
James enters the second and final regular season rematch of last year's NBA Finals sizzling, averaging 30.8 points on 71.7 percent shooting in the Heat's last six games, all of them wins. He's added 6.7 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.7 steals and one blocked shot per game over that same span.
“He's at a level that only a few players in this league have ever had,” Brooks said. “You can do a lot of good things and sound defensive principles against him and he still figures out ways to have an efficient game.”
James became the first player in NBA history to go six straight games with a 30-plus-point average while shooting at least 60 percent. He has improbably connected on 11 of 15.3 shot attempts per game over the past six games.
“They're not all dunks either,” Brooks said. “He definitely gets a lot of rim points. But you used to be able to give him the jump shot. You want your players to improve every year and he's improved every year. You think, ‘OK, he can't improve this year.' But it's been, what, 10 years now of improvement. And he's only 28.”